By Neil Pierson
Out of all the trends that have emerged from the season’s first six matches, there’s one that best explains why Puget Sound Gunners FC is still searching for its first win.
Puget Sound has given up the game’s first goal in each of those matches, and while the team has rallied to earn a draw three times, it’s a pattern the Gunners want to end sooner rather than later.
“It would be nice if we could go up a goal once,” Puget Sound forward Chuck Pitts said prior to a training session this week. “We’ve always found ourselves level or trying to claw our way back into a game, so that’s the idea going into this weekend.”
Getting the first goal could be all-important for sixth-place Puget Sound (0-3-3, 3 points) as it hosts the first-place Kitsap Pumas (4-0-0, 12 points) on Sunday, June 14. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Issaquah High School.
Gunners FC nearly got its first win of 2015 last time out, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw against Washington Crossfire on Sunday, June 7.
Crossfire went to halftime with a 1-0 lead thanks to a 12th-minute goal, but Puget Sound got its offense going in the second half as University of Washington product Corban Anderson scored his first goal for Gunners FC in the 72nd minute.
Pitts then notched his team-leading fourth goal of the season with five minutes to play, beating Crossfire keeper Tyler Visten with a one-on-one chance, and seemingly clinching the win for the visitors. But Crossfire leveled it in the 88th minute on a goal from Josh Ocampo.
“I think it was a mishit cross that ends up looping over (goalkeeper) Shane (Haworth’s) head,” Gunners FC defender Declan McGivern said, “ … so we were really disappointed to get out of that without all three points.”
“You sit there for a second like, ‘Wow, that really just happened,’” Pitts said of the equalizer. “One of the luckiest goals I’ve seen in a while – totally unintentional.”
Puget Sound had to battle the heat at Redmond High School, and a physical Crossfire squad that committed 14 fouls. Crossfire had eight shots to the Gunners’ five, and Haworth made six saves.
It was an encouraging performance, however, just two days after Puget Sound sustained its most lopsided loss of the season.
The Seattle Sounders U23s dominated the Gunners 5-0 on June 5 in Sumner, scoring all five goals in the first half.
“We hoped to go there and rattle a few cages, but it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” McGivern said. “We came out slow and got punished.”
Pitts said the result was deserved considering how poorly the Gunners played in the first half, and the players made a point of refocusing on their off day before taking on Washington Crossfire.
“We’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt and move on, because it’s only about halfway through the season,” he said.
Although Kitsap has yet to be beaten in four tries this season – outscoring their foes 8-1 in the process – the Gunners feel confident about this weekend’s game because of the result from the teams’ last meeting.
The Pumas needed a 90th-minute goal to get a 1-0 win on May 31, and the Gunners liked the way they performed defensively against a squad that is generally more seasoned and cohesive than anyone else in the Premier Development League’s Northwest Division.
“It’s nice to know we went there to their place and really put on a good defensive show,” McGivern said. “We’re confident now in our ability. We know we can defend well as a unit. It’s just about everyone being on the same page, everyone executing the game plan, and we should be able to hopefully frustrate them again and come out of the game with something.
“They’re obviously a very good side. We’ve got respect for their team. They’re a professional team, but that won’t stop us. We’re going to come into the game with a positive attitude, like we always do, and look to take all three points.”
A win would go a long way toward bolstering Puget Sound’s confidence, and it would put the team back in the thick of the playoff chase with five matches remaining. The Gunners are only four points out of the third and final playoff spot, currently shared by Calgary Foothills FC and Seattle Sounders U23s.
No one seems to be overly frustrated with the six-game winless streak, Pitts said, and the players are trying to do the right things leading up to game day.
“Obviously, it’s got to be a team effort, and it can’t just be a couple guys,” he said. “It’s top to bottom, the whole roster, and it starts here at practice, too. We’ve talked about that a lot, about changing our training habits and trying to find ways to win.”